Tag Archives: ipad2

Mobile Suite Showdown – Editor Layout

Productivity apps on the iPad continue to be one of the top selling points for the device. It’s no surprise, then, that there are several office suites available in the App Store. This post is going to explore the three main “all in one” suites which are available on the iPad – Documents to Go, Quick Office, and Office2 HD. Apple’s iWork is also available in the App store, but the “separate app” nature of the suite sets it outside the scope of this comparison.

Each suite will be explored for file management, editor layout, editing features, and importing/exporting. We’ll primarily look at the word-processing features of each suite, but will also compare the spreadsheet and presentations modules for each app. Today we’ll be looking at the second comparison – editor layout.

Quick Office Editor

Quick Office

Quick office places  it’s formatting buttons at the top of the editor screen. The number of buttons is minimalist, with text formatting options to the left and tools to the right.  The buttons are persistent, allowing for quick formatting without too much trouble.  Oddly, many formatting options are hidden behind a gear icon – grouped with the tools.  Found under the gear icon are font options, alignment, lists, colors, and indents.  While I applaud the attempt at a minimalist interface, I don’t find burying the bulk of formatting options in one cluttered interface to be an elegant solution.

Quick office also displays it’s content in a page-layout format – allowing a content creator to see how their content will look when printed or exported to a PDF.  This can be a useful feature in some instances, but it ends up wasting most of the iPad’s screen real-estate with an exciting display of document margins.

Office 2 HD editor

Office2 HD

If Quick Office to be minimalist in its layout, Office2 HD celebrates complexity.  There are two “pages” of buttons in it’s interface – the first holds text formatting options and the second contains paragraph level formatting like alignments, lists, and intents.  There is, however, one paragraph level formatting option which can be found in the first page of options – paragraph styles.  While is is more a “feature” than a layout choice, Office2 HD is the only “all in one” mobile office suite which supports paragraph styles, and their inclusion as an obvious option is welcome.  The buttons are not persistent, though, they only appear when the keyboard is engaged.  They also feel cramped, and accidental  taps are not uncommon when flicking between button pages.

This suite also defaults to page layout view.  Unlike Quick Office, however, there is an option to switch to “screen layout.” This makes much better use of the iPad’s screen size, and also allows users to zoom the text to a comfortable level without affecting the layout of the page.

Documents to Go editor

Documents to Go

Documents to Go places it buttons at the bottom of the editor.  This is likely a carry-over from the iPhone UI, where bottom buttons are easier to reach while typing, but it translates well on to the larger screen.  There are five buttons in this row – file options, text formatting, paragraph formatting, lists, and tools.  Each button tap reveals a list of common options for that category, along with a “more” option to access more complex formatting.  The buttons, however, are not persistent and actually disappear when the on-screen keyboard is active. Again, this is likely a by-product of the suite being a universal app.  Hiding the buttons when typing makes some sense when using a smaller screen, but on the iPad the vanishing act gets frustrating.

Unlike the other two suites, Documents to Go doesn’t have a page layout view.  It uses a screen layout view only, reflowing the text as a user pinches and zooms the content.  Given that screen layout view makes much better use of the iPad’s screen, the lack of a page layout option isn’t missed much.

Conclusion

Quick Office attempts to create a fast, minimalist, interface while laying out content with a metaphor common to a desktop suite (page view). In the end it ends up failing in both button layout and content layout.  Office2 HD has a complex, and cramped, interface.  It does, however, have two views for content – allowing a user to view content in a way which makes sense on an iPad’s screen.  Documents to Go manages to split the difference and uses a simple button layout and has no page view option at all.  While Documents to Go has some quirks, mostly due to it’s universal nature, it’s still the best editor layout among the three suites.

The “meh” experience of sermon-writing on my iPad

Today I took the plunge and wrote my sermon on my iPad. It’s a “doable” experience, but not one I’d want to repeat over and over again just yet. Let me share my two biggest reasons why I don’t think it’s quite “there” yet.

  • There aren’t any windows. I know, on the iPad that’s a feature rather than a bug – but the nice thing about windows is the ability to look at information, and enter in data in another window without have to completely switch screens (or do so seamlessly). Also, I keep IM open while I’m working and I miss seeing my IM client there while I’m typing away. Most of my problems will be handled in iOS 5 this fall, switching apps seamlessly will be a simple swipe-gesture, and the new alerts set-up for iOS 5 will solve my IM dilemma. Right now, however, working collaboratively between processes is rather disruptive.
  • The writing apps aren’t quite up to snuff. I use Documents to Go as my word processor. It’s not awesome, but it does outlines, is synced to my Google Docs account (though it really should sync the doc automatically when it’s saved, rather than syncing only after the document is closed), and has a good set of features. It’s not as stunning to look at as Pages, but it actually has the features I need. The problem is, the keyboard support is pretty awful – the typical formatting shortcuts don’t work, and neither does the “save” command (which is needed, I lost whole paragraphs because the app didn’t suspend properly when I went to go search something in my Bible app). Also, would it kill Documents to Go to have a setting to enable typographic quotes? It just looks nicer. This writing experience needs to improve significantly before I move over to writing sermons on my iPad full-time.

So, that’s where I am. I could keep my MacBook shut down all week and just write on my iPad – but the disruptive way of collaboratively working between processes, coupled with weak apps for document generation, make it an undesirable option. I actually had considered using Google Docs directly on my iPad, but the desktop version is suddenly not working properly on my iPad anymore! I’ll keep looking for tools that make sermon-writing on my iPad a more enjoyable experience, and will revisit the process when iOS 5 comes out in the fall.

Leaving the MacBook at home for fun and prophet

We drove out to pick up our daughter from my wife’s folks after worship on Sunday. As my day off is Monday we stayed over-night and hit HersheyPark on Monday. This isn’t unusual, it’s a ritual we do year after year. What was unusual, however, is that this time I left my MacBook at home. This isn’t to say that I was sans computer, I had both my iPhone and iPad with me. I didn’t miss lugging my laptop bag with me. In fact, my MacBook remained in my bag until Tuesday morning, when I carried it downstairs for my weekly ritual of translating Scripture. Then, after lugging it downstairs this morning I thought, “What would happen if just left it at home today? Can I do my work without it?”

So I left my MacBook powered completely down, in my laptop bag, at home. Honestly, there were very few moments that I missed having it. My biggest problem came, actually, with the Bible apps that I use on iOS: Olive Tree Reader and Accordance.

Now, let me be clear. I adore both these apps. Olive Tree has been making wonderful Bible software for the mobile realm for years, and Accordance on the Mac is an absolute joy to use (though their iOS version is less mature than Olive Tree’s for obvious reasons). I know people from both companies, and even hosted an Accordance training seminar this past spring. I also have significant money invested in each platform, though I did beta test for Olive Tree for a while and got access to some modules for free (full disclosure there). My problem is, for the most part, neither app works the way I tend to think.

One of Accordance’s great strengths is the ability to arrange the interface into a work-flow which is suited for the individual user. As such, I’ve got my MacOS Accordance install set up for me, myself, and I. The windows are all set up in the places where I expect them to be, and life is good. On iOS, however, every app is full-screen. Accordance for iOS has a rather slick split-screen function built-into it, but when I try to interact with the text (say, to add a user note) the interface gets completely in the way. For example, when adding a user note, the editor over-lays the text you’re commenting on! That doesn’t make any sense to me. A similar limitation for Accordance iOS is the lack of user tool support (though these should be arriving soon), so I can’t do my weekly (badly done) translation ritual in the app. Finally, Accordance iOS only syncs between a Mac and the iOS device. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s rapidly becoming a deal-breaker for me. Why should I have to manually sync my notes files between locations in the world of dropbox? If I write a note on one device, it should be automatically pushed to my other devices. At least, that’s what I’m looking for now.

Olive Tree Reader, on the other hand, has excellent cloud support (both through evernote and their own cloud-sync service), allows you to edit a note in split-screen view, and doesn’t limit your notes to to verse commentary (as you can see in the screen shot). This means I can (poorly) translate the text while continuing to interact with the text. In a rather weird oversight, however, Olive Tree Reader allows you to edit notes which are attached to a verse in split-screen view, but if you write a new note in split-screen there is no way to assign it to a verse! So, as with Accordance for iOS, I’m stuck editing verse notes in an pop-up overlay. I work around this by adding a blank note for the verses I’m working on and then edit them. While it’s nice to have the flexibility to enter my notes this way, however, it would be nice to not have to do it at all.

When it comes to displaying notes, though, I much prefer the way Accordance iOS handles things. In Olive Tree Reader each note is an independent entry – each of which has to be opened on it’s own. I get the concept, as they wanted the notes to be able to be easily accessed in full-screen view. This set-up, however, makes it difficult to have a sense of an on-going interaction with the text – each note is it’s own entity, and doesn’t need to be associated with the notes which surround it. Accordance iOS, taking a cue from it’s MacOS roots, displays my notes in split-screen mode only, with the notes window automatically scrolling with the text. This scrolling behavior helps to create the sense of an ongoing interaction with the text as a whole, rather than each verse as in individual entity – it is truly a thing of beauty, as you can see in the screen shot. I like it so much that I’ve actually been writing my notes in Olive Tree Reader, and copying them into my Accordance notes (which I then sync back to my MacOS install). It’s not ideal, but then I’m able to function the best way for me.

Do I “need” my MacBook to do my sermon work anymore? No, I don’t – but I can’t deny that the over-all experience is still more flexible and ideal for my work-flow than the iPad (and if I didn’t have a keyboard it wouldn’t even be a question, the on-screen keyboard takes up way too much screen real-estate). If I could marry Olive Tree and Accordance’s different strengths into one app, however, it would be killer app if there ever was one!

To my friends and acquaintances at both these companies I offer my sincere thanks for all you do. I hope you feel my critiques are fair, my compliments genuine, and my thoughts helpful as you keep moving forward on your prospective projects.

Immersion emergence

The other day I needed to get some work done on my MacBook, and felt an odd emotion.

I was annoyed.

It was odd feeling. Over the last decade and a half I’ve moved from Windows, to Linux, and then to Mac. Each time the shift was met with a sense of joy at the prospect of learning new skills and tools. Each was also accompanied by a sense of wonder at the sheer speed of the computing power suddenly at my disposal – the shift to the Mac was perhaps the greatest of these (though, to be honest, I doubt I’d appreciate the Mac as much if I hadn’t used Linux for so long).

For some reason, I didn’t expect a similar sense of wonder about iOS. My iPad, after all, was supposed to be an ancillary device – the one that I use when I’m not doing anything “major.” Even after noting that my time on both my MacBook and iPhone has dropped significantly, I still didn’t think about my adoption of the iPad as a shift to a primary device. That is, until, I woke up my MacBook from sleep and did something of which I had become unaccustomed — I waited. First, I had to wait while the MacBook drive spun-up and the machine became usable. This wait, which is significantly faster than the Windows and Linux machines I’ve used in the past, suddenly became intolerable. I had to wait for my application to start, and then I had to search for the file I wanted, and the wait for it to open. By the time I got done I shut the MacBook, thinking to myself, “I really don’t like this!”. While I still use the MacBook for many tasks, it’s no longer the pleasure it once was. The MacBook has a barrier between me and my work, while my iPad let’s me touch it in order to move it around and manipulate it. While geeks tend to laugh at terms like “immersive,” that’s exactly what is appealing about devices like the iPad.

This isn’t to say it’s perfect, I still worry about the unclear application approval process that Apple uses for it’s app store, and I don’t like how the app store actually prevents open source software from appearing there as well. I also worry at the heavy-handed way Apple is insisting that everything which can be purchased via a link in an app (such as with the Kindle app). I still want a physical keyboard to touch-type and will probably get one soon (though that weakens the sense of immersion, I admit).

I will probably buy another MacBook at some point, but when I do, it will be an Air — it’s the only computer on the market right now that I think will ease my new sense of annoyance with old-style computing.

Hands On With the iPad 2

Well, yesterday I stood outside and got myself an iPad.  Now, a day later, I’m ready to share some thoughts on actually using it.

The bad

It might seem odd to start with the bad things in a review, but with my iPad I feel compelled to share the one thing that I feel Apple got “wrong” with this device.  Simply put, it’s the buttons.  Or, rather, every toggle on the device except for the home button.

Ironically, my problem with the toggles is a side-effect of one of the iPad 2’s greatest features, it’s thinness.  On the iPad 1, the straight edge served as the perfect venue for the volume rocker, the lock switch, and the sleep button.  On the iPad 2, that straight edge is gone, and the buttons are almost under the screen.  This is a minor annoyance for the sleep button, which I don’t use anyway since I got a smart cover.  It’s an inconvenience with the volume rocker, as I’m not used to it’s location yet and I need to fish around for it.  The lock switch, however, is a bear.  Unless your finder is directly on top of the switch, it’s really difficult to toggle – I’m actually afraid of damaging it!  I guess I’ll get used to its odd angle (compared to the screen) and the particular way it needs to be toggled, but compared to the iPad 1 it seems like an odd design flaw.  The hardware buttons really do take some getting used to.

The Good

So what about the good?  My son has an iPad 1 so I can compare it with that device, it makes the good of the iPad 2 stand out even more.  There’s a lot to love.

First, when I showed my wife the two devices side-by-side this morning she said instantly, “The iPad 2 is a lot brighter.”  The LED lit screen on the iPad 2 is brilliant and is noticeably brighter than its first gen cousin.  I’m going to check it out in bright sunlight tomorrow to see how the screen fares there, but indoors, it’s stunning.

Second, this thing is fast.  Web-browsing is noticeably faster, and animations are smooth.  In fact, the animations showed no stuttering even while installing multiple updates and receiving desktop notifications.  I haven’t seen a breakdown that tells us how much ram it has yet, but it’s obviously got more than the iPad 1.

Third, I love the smart cover.  Yes, it only protects the front of the device – but it’s just dang cool.  When it’s folded back flat against the back of the iPad it actually makes the device easier to hold and it keeps it from sliding around when on your lap.  The “stand” function is also really cool – though I do wish that it could somehow work to stand up the iPad when in portrait mode.

Using it

The cameras are OK.  The two times I’ve use it, both under artificial light, the picture has been rather grainy.  I need to do a comparison, but my 3Gs seems like it does better video in lower light conditions (of course, that could just be because I can’t see the graininess on the smaller screen).  Facetime works as advertised, the audio quality is excellent and the picture quality is pretty good as well (I want to try it out with someone on an iPhone 4). I haven’t installed Skype yet, but I’ll do that soon.

Typing on this device is about the same as the iPad 1, which means “good” but not great.  I typed my “in line” blog entry on the iPad and wasn’t frustrated at all, which is saying a lot, but I did find myself accidentally hitting the space bar from time to time.  I did get used to it, but it was a minor annoyance.  I’ll get a bluetooth keyboard for this eventually if I’m going to do any serious writing on it.

Video streaming is wonderful.  HD videos in my dropbox play without a hiccup and the quality is perfect.  Youtube videos play equally well, and html 5 UI elements on web-pages show absolutely no lag whatsoever.  Apps in general are responsive and seem to launch faster than on the iPad 1.  This thing is fun to work on.

I actually haven’t played a single game on the iPad yet.  I have one installed (Harry Potter Lego), but I got this to be a work device, so I’m trying to keep the clutter of of it as long as I can.  I do foresee angry birds on this in the near future though!

Final Thoughts

I own a first generation iPod Touch and an iPhone 3Gs.  When I got back to install someone on the 1st gen Touch, it feels slow.  It’s not really any slower than when it was my primary iOS device, but the shift to the 3Gs was just that dramatic.  The shift to the iPad 2 from the iPad 1 isn’t quite as dramatic, but it certainly feels similar.  It is a very dramatic switch.

Give me a day or two, and I’ll post a bit on how I want to make use of the iPad in ministry.

In Line with the Crowd

Last year we were given money in order to purchase an iPad for my son, who has ocular albinism. We got it so he would be able to read, especially the Bible (thank you Olive Tree, for your excellent reader). Since then, the iPad has become the way my son interacts in worship. We put on the lyrics, the worship slides, and the readings on it’s wonderful screen – and it allows our son to participate.

I also fell in love with device, and when my birthday came around I determined that I would get one myself. Now, people might wonder why I just don’t use my son’s iPad and save the money. It’s a good question and it has a good answer, it is his iPad. The money we were given was specifically donated in order to help our son read and, while I have experimented with his iPad over the last year, I’ve done my best to remember that this is HIS device – given for HIS benefit. My experiments, however, have shown me the potential for and iPad – hence, I determined that I’d be getting one myself.

So, I was out yesterday with several hundred other nerds (waiting in line isn’t really even geeky, it’s a level below that) waiting for the appointed hour to arrive. I was also blessed to have a friend stand in line with me, thanks Vernl! It took about an hour for me, and the other wonderfully socially-awkward nerds around me, to get into the store. We arrived in line just after three o’clock, so Vernl and I waited about three hours. This wasn’t bad at all. I was out of range of Apple’s wifi, however, and At&T’s 3G was non-existent (400 yards from one of their stores, believe it or not). I turned off 3G and updated my social streams over edge. It was slow, but it worked.

When we got half-way through the line to the store, we were met by two Apple employees and received our “magic ticket” which assured us that there would be iPads in the store when we arrived (though there was no guarantee on the model). A short while later I was introduced to my personal agent for my purchase and announced exactly what I wanted. While she went off to get my iPad, I went over to pick out my “smart cover.” By the time I had it picked out, she had returned and I completed the transaction. I may have been in the store for 10 minutes.

The experience was a lot of fun. The people in line were hysterical, and I the Apple employees were a blast. I tried getting a picture with the guy at the door, but he said he wasn’t allowed to pose. This was a bummer, but with hundreds of people in line behind me I can understand the policy. The cheers in line as people held up their iPads reminded of The Empire Strikes Back when the speaker announced, “The first transport is away.” Like the people in the Rebel base, we were happy for the folks on the other side, but we also were wondering, “What about us?” I did think that being cheered by the staff on the way out was a bit odd, but it’s all part of the deal.

All in all, I’m glad I went. Look for my reflections on the iPad itself shortly.